NCDHHS keeps 2 types of COVID-19 test results separate, avoids data mishaps of other states

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina keeps its diagnostic and antibody COVID-19 test results separate, a state Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

That has helped the state avoid the issues with potentially skewed data that have popped up recently in three other states.

There’s a critical difference between the two types of tests: Diagnostic tests — using saliva or sputum — are used to identify current infections while antibody tests use drawn blood to determine if a person had been infected in the past.

Virginia, Texas and Vermont had been combining those results in their coronavirus counts, which could mislead officials and the public by painting an inaccurate picture of the spread of the disease.

DHHS spokeswoman Amy Ellis confirmed to CBS 17 News that antibody tests are not included in the state’s test numbers but added that the agency is “working on strategies for collecting and incorporating antibody testing into our surveillance.”

Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 has picked up recently across the state, with Thursday marking the ninth straight day that at least 7,000 tests were completed, according to the DHHS online dashboard. The state’s weekly rolling average has surpassed 10,000 tests per day, according to CBS 17 News calculations.

Some people have been tested multiple times, and they are counted differently in two of the four key metrics tracked by the state during the reopening process.

Each person is counted only once in the total case count, Ellis said. But the positive test rate — the percentage of all tests completed that are positive — takes into account all tests for people who have been tested more than once, she said.

The positive test rate is important because a high number of confirmed cases but a low percentage could be a reflection of the increased testing, while a high percentage could be a sign that the disease continues to spread.

Testing is one of the critical measures in containing the virus — especially in nursing homes, which have particularly vulnerable to outbreaks because of vulnerable populations living in close quarters.

More than 53 percent of the 716 reported COVID-19 deaths in the state have involved nursing homes.

“We probably will not be able to get control of this in nursing homes without asymptomatic testing,” said Donald Taylor, director of the social science research institute at Duke University.

According to the American Health Care Association, providing one test for every resident and staff member at North Carolina’s 428 facilities would cost more than $12.2 million at a cost of $150 per test.

Saying regular testing is unsustainable without federal and state funding, Mark Parkinson — the group’s president and CEO — says he has asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a $10 billion in emergency relief to help pay for testing and staff.

“For months now, we have been advocating for expanded and priority testing in nursing homes to protect our residents and caregivers, but this is a significant undertaking and cost for nursing homes to shoulder on their own,” Parkinson said.

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